'This Is It, This Is the Best It Can Get'

Times Staff Writer

USC Coach Pete Carroll talked recently about his future and whether he would consider leaving the college ranks to return to the NFL.

He also spoke about the challenges and rewards he faces in reestablishing the Trojans as one of the top programs in the nation.

Question: Is there a sense that if they [NFL teams] come calling now that you would have interest? Because you're going to be a hot name.

Answer: There is a sense that I have no interest. I haven't talked to anybody. I don't plan on it and I send out my message pretty strongly.

Q: If there was a pro situation that's close to this [USC] in terms of control and things you enjoy about this, would that appeal to you?

A: I can't imagine it would. This is just fine. I'm right in the middle of the best times of my life, so why would I want to change that? Really, that's what it feels like.

Q: What about the competitive side of you? Everything is a competition with you.

A: That's the only thing that could ever get me. If I felt there was another level of competition that I couldn't help but go after. When I had opportunities to take struggling programs or a team that showed that they had a chance to be really good, I went for the team that could be really good. That was even more risky as a coach. I should have taken the Rams job, you know, and I went to the Patriots instead for exactly this reason.

I could have gone to Denver as a coordinator when they were lousy and the worst defense in the NFL and I went to the 49ers coming off a Super Bowl because I wanted to see how long we could keep it up.

That's my nature. I've discovered that. After a couple decisions. (Laughing.) ...

Even though they [USC] were struggling, it's still one of these "high profile, you've got to do well, there's no building, it's right now." This is right in my wheelhouse. This is the kind of situation that I like.

I don't think there's one of those out there [in the NFL]. I don't think the league allows for it. And I would never, ever attempt it, ever, without absolute total, you know, my own shot to do it. ...

This is it, this is the best it can get. And so I'm pouring everything I've got into it and [I'm going] forward to hold this level of effort and intensity for as long as I can.

Q: Given your competitive nature, is there a part of you that says, "I got a raw deal. My legacy in the NFL is not what it should be?"

A: I don't care about that, really. Because here I have a chance to approach excellence. And that means long-term substantial success. That's fine. It feels great.

Q: There isn't a part of you that says I got a bad rap there?

A: Not really.

Q: I mean you took two teams, you went to the playoffs and....

A: You're trying to talk me into that. I don't feel like that. I can only tell you what I feel like right now. That's what it feels like. And I'm absolutely at peace with that, totally at peace with it. That's, again, a great sign for me personally to understand it.

Q: For people who would say there is a difference in coaching in the NFL and college, is there a difference, or are you doing the same things?

A: The football part is the same except for the restrictions that are on you there [in the NFL]. I find fewer restrictions here and there's more players. The whole landscape of the personnel is much more even. You're not restricted. I can sit anybody down any time I want and I have plenty of players to go to another guy. You don't run out of guys. Because [in the NFL] you can get contractually beholden to people and you can't do anything about it. Well, that's not necessarily the best way to compete and that's not the healthiest way to take your best shot.

This is more that way. I've got a lot of guys I can go to. I want to keep building up that depth chart. You know me, I love the fact I have somebody else nipping at the heels of somebody that's playing and I'm going to give them some playing time to make it clear that that's the case, because I think that's the best way to keep people expressing their abilities.

Q: So when you say the thing you like about [the NFL] is you're playing against the best players in the world and the best coaches in the world....

A: I love that part of it.

Q: You don't think that will regenerate in you and send you back to the NFL?

A: No, because with that you're still shackled in a sense within some major aspects of how it works. That was great, that was awesome, that's what I loved about it. But that's what that situation is. This one has some different elements to it. Really, it's about winning. You know. It's about winning. A lot. A lot, you know? I think I have a chance to control that better here than any place I can ever go.

(Chuckling.) So, I've made my wife know, "Just punch me right in the face if I ever forget that." And she can feel free to just punch me in the face. I won't say a word, I'll know why she hit me.

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